For me, the mind of Dean Winchester is a microcosm of the Supernatural world. Sudden, sharp and scary. Dark and deep. Warm and supporting. Haunted and haunting. One moment, heartwarming, the next, heartbreaking. And layers upon layers upon layers. On the surface, smart and slick. Underneath hard, strong, stalwart and loyal. Under that, insecure, unsure and angry. And finally at the core a little 4 year old boy that saw his world come crashing down on one fateful night.
A four-year old core so strong, that when Dean has his heart’s wish answered, it’s not to end up on a tropical island full of Gumby Girls, as the adult Dean Winchester would, no doubt, want us all to believe. Nor is it to end up in Atlantic City gambling with a hot winning streak. It’s simply to have his mom back.
But first, let’s take a step back.
Dean Winchester is an interesting character who adamantly resists our attempts to intrude on his psyche.
“No chick flick moments.”
“Hold me Sam, that was beautiful.”
He must drive the
torture writer’s room to distraction as they try to develop his character for us. And so they are left to employing extreme devices to give us a glimpse into the mind of Dean. We’ve seen a shapeshifter speak for him, we’ve seen him at the deathbed of his brother, and we’ve seen him face his inner self in a nightmare. And each time we the viewers have examined the glimpses to try and figure out how much of that is the true Dean Winchester. For me, however, nothing speaks more of the true Dean Winchester than the world we see in the episode of WIAWSNB.
Please allow me a brief digression here. I would be remiss if I presented this episode without mention of the amazing performances by both Jensen and Jared. Jensen shows us how Dean reacts when all his adult defense mechanisms are stripped away. He presents to us the devastation Dean feels as his “normal life” is once again ripped away from him. And Jared gives us a Sam Winchester who didn’t spend his whole life growing up wishing to be just like his older brother. A Sam Winchester who is, in effect, a stranger to Dean and to us. Also, I would like to compliment the direction of Eric Kripke who knew when to stick to his guns (having the brothers be strangers to each other) and when to bow to reason (letting Dean have a job rather than be an aimless drifter).
Back to being Dean Winchester. In Skin, we saw some of the resentment he had when Sam left. In DaLDoM, we learned about his anger towards his father. And in AHBL2, we saw that anger directed at himself.
But what does this episode tell us about the mind of Dean? I believe that this episode shows Dean’s strengths. Sure he can get angry with his father and brother. Who doesn’t occasionally get angry at those closest to us? Those people that we let under our barriers. And Dean is no saint. He has self doubts too, but he’s been on a long and twisted road most of his life. However, this episode shows us a different part of Dean’s psyche. It shows us Dean’s commitment to family, his ability to love and his inner strength as a hero.
First things first. In this episode, we reaffirm what we already knew. Dean is a family man. He wants nothing more than to see his family happy. He wants him mom back and Sam to be at school pursuing his dream of being a lawyer. And hey, dating an attractive respectable nurse isn’t too bad either. His brother is going to be married, his mom is going to be a grandmother, even his father died peacefully in his sleep rather than on a hospital floor having sold his soul. And if he and Sam don’t get along, well he can work on that. This is what Dean wants, a chance for his family to have the family life he saw growing up. Well, that is when he was watching TV in all those non-descript hotels while his father was out hunting. This is the life that he tried so hard to give his little brother as he protected Sam from the grim reality of life.
We also see Dean’s capacity for love in this episode. I’m not talking about the “Doublemint Twins” kind of love. Eric Kripke mentions it in his commentary, how Dean leans in to his mother’s caresses. He doesn’t want it to end, he craves that close physical expression of love the way a man in the desert would crave a cool glass of water. And you can see the contentment he has dating a “respectable” nurse rather than spending every night with a different girl. “I get it. Why you’re the one.” And look at his face when he sees Jessica, who in reality he briefly met once. He’s so happy to see her alive and well and with Sam. His family, those he loves, are safe and happy and that means all the world to him.
And there he might have stayed forever. Or at least a couple of days in real time. Except for that last strength.
Eric Kripke said, “It sucks to be a hero. Their lives are filled with pain, danger and fear”. So why would anyone want to be a hero? And if they had a “second chance”, why would they choose to go back?
Dean is living in a fantasy brought about by the fulfillment of his deepest wish. And yet his subconscious knows that this isn’t right, this isn’t real, and begins to send him flashes of reality. And when he ignores those, it shows him what would happen if he never became a hunter in a “Wonderful Life-esque” fashion. He finds out that everyone he’s ever saved is now dead. Without his little brother as a sounding board for thoughts or ideas, he’s left to rail at his father’s grave, finally admitting the need to give up all that he’s gained because it isn’t right. I’ve said repeatedly that Dean is about saving people, and nowhere is this more evident than in the end of this episode. This is what he is. A hero. Despite the pain and fear and sacrifice, he has the strength to go back to his former life.
And at the end? Did you catch that? He realizes that this is all in his head. All those people he saved are still alive. He can lay down his burden without guilt at this point, and yet he doesn’t.
Family. Love. Strength. All part of our Dean Winchester.
And so I leave you with this question, if you’d like to answer. Over the episodes we’ve heard a lot about what Sam and Dean could/should do with their lives. And we know that Mr. Kripke has an ending to the series in mind. We’ve even discussed how we would like to see the story “end”. My question is:
Knowing what you do about Dean, what kind of “ever after” would you write for him?
The Supernatural Un-Book Club schedule for the next couple of weeks is:
Weekend of March 29th – Ocean with Benders
Weekend of April 5th – Whimsy with Nightshifter
Weekend of April 19th – FrenchLady with Home
Thank you joining us.